Category Archives: evangelicals

A staggering look at the forces behind the evangelical pick for president

Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump

Pardon the beach-read aesthetic. Here’s the cover of Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump by Gary Lachman.

Updated Sept. 8, 2018, just to say: See this brief review of Dark Star Rising in the Church Times.

Below I’ve pasted my brief Instagram review (with a few minor edits) of Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump by Gary Lachman:

Gary Lachman first became famous as Gary Valentine, bass player and one of the songwriters for Blondie. But since then, he’s become a journalist and cultural historian, writing about the presence and influence of the occult and mysticism in the contemporary world, along with biographies of key historical proponents of esoteric ideas.

One of his previous books, Politics and the Occult: The Left, the Right, and the Radically Unseen (2008) mapped out the stranger ideas and beliefs behind a variety of political figures, past and present. Now 10 years later, in Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump, Lachman has focused on Trump, his background, and some of his advisers, who have found inspiration in writers and thinkers with especially weird and troubling takes on reality.

The New York Times, for instance, has reported on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s admiration for Julius Evola, the late “Italian occultist and esoteric philosopher” (as Lachman describes him) who has found admirers among racists both in the U.S. and Russia, including the American white nationalist Richard Spencer. Oddly enough, now with Russia on the minds of U.S. politicians and national security officials, Putin’s right-hand man Alexander Dugin has made political connections with an Italian disciple of Evola.

Lachman’s research for this book, combined with his background knowledge from writing 20-some books on historical and cultural intersections with the occult, brings to light angles on our current president that most news and commentary haven’t touched.

A few people have left the White House, including Bannon, and a few things have changed since this book was published. But I’ll wager anyone who reads Dark Star Rising will feel even more uneasy about the state of our manufactured politics and the potential for a dark future.

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Would C.S. Lewis suppose God could be found or experienced outside of Christianity?

The guy who scorned liberal Christianity as watered-down (“Christianity and water”)—and who mocked “gin-and-lace” Anglo-Catholicism—turns out to believe God could be found outside of Christianity?

The guy who is loved by U.S. evangelicals and fundamentalists turns out to proclaim that people can experience God outside of Christianity?

Consider (here I paste from one of my recent replies in a social media thread):

…What I mean is, Lewis saw God in Plato. He also loved Rudolf Otto’s “The Idea of the Holy,” in fact listed it as one of his top 10 books outside the Bible, and Otto’s book affirms the human experience of God among many different cultures and religions, which seems reasonable considering Saint Paul felt it appropriate to quote a pagan poet who wrote, “In Him we live and move and have our being.”

Note Paul found a worthy piece of writing about God outside of Scripture, from a writer neither Jewish nor Christian.

Lewis also said, in “Mere Christianity” no less, “If you are Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through….If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth.” He goes on to say God may be working through the good parts of other religions to steer people to Christ.

And in the Narnia book “The Last Battle,” a character who seems analogous to a Muslim enters Aslan’s kingdom and joins the ride “further up and further in.”

Considering Lewis’s love for Otto’s book and his own words in “Mere Christianity” and “The Last Battle,” you…must consider C.S. Lewis to be a heretic. Perhaps he wouldn’t be welcome in the ACNA, which seems only capable of issuing demerits. Look at all the evidence against Lewis being orthodox! And you wouldn’t be the first to consider him insufficiently orthodox. But I don’t.…and until I can consider Lewis a heretic, maybe for the time being I’ll consider a church’s consistent recitation of the Nicene Creed as enough to count for orthodoxy…

In that social media reply, I went on to mention Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, which offers appendices that show similarities in moral and ethical teachings across various religions and cultures. Not that morals and ethics are the ultimate concern for many religious people (for them, salvation is), but similarities in identifying sin are probably important to notice.

In that reply, I should have also included this Lewis quotation, from a 1959 letter to Clyde S. Kilby, which alludes to James 1:17:

“If every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights then all true and edifying writings, whether in Scripture or not, must be in some sense inspired.”

The harshest conservative critics will see the above as cherry-picking (selectively using evidence). However I think the above evidence reveals an undeniable tendency in Lewis’s outlook and worldview, in his theological and philosophical orientations, born from his deep and wide readings in classical literature and mythology.

So, more broadly, this post belongs to perhaps an emerging genre of posts, accumulating on this blog and elsewhere, carrying underneath a tonal blend of exasperation and bafflement at the U.S. evangelicals and fundamentalists who appreciate C.S. Lewis, who was neither evangelical nor fundamentalist. Many things evangelicals and fundamentalists scorn in other types of believers are the very things Lewis believed. But C.S. Lewis remains famous and beloved, and he was a scholar who believed in a God and better yet in Jesus Christ; so see, they have a smart person in their corner in a time when undefined, somewhere-out-there smart people seem to be the biggest threat to those in evangelical and fundamentalist circles. (Well, the biggest threat until recently.) Evangelical and fundamentalist leaders seem invested in articulating easily-remembered phrases that can become rhetorical memes that build cognitive walls against outside critiques. C.S. Lewis is so quotable, the rhetorical memes are already available. If they side step the fact that Lewis didn’t see the world or God the same way as U.S. evangelicals and fundamentalists, they can quote Lewis with faux gravitas, pat themselves on the back for being smart and bookish, and meanwhile convince no one else in their neighborhoods of anything.

That being said, this post was generated by a recent social media exchange in which an ACNA minister pressed me to seek disciplinary action against an Episcopalian priest for saying God could be found in the Koran. To that I made the above italicized response, also saying I would not be his heresy hunter because I’m not certain C.S. Lewis would play that role. The ACNA minister apparently did not see this as a response to the issue of the Koran. While admittedly not addressing the Koran directly, I argued from C.S. Lewis’s life and work that he thought people outside of Christianity could experience the presence of the real God (what more that might mean or indicate is up for discussion). I think the two strongest pieces of evidence for this are (1) Lewis’s strong appreciation for Otto’s book, not commonly read these days but historically important, and (2) his letter to Kilby. On balance, I’m not sure C.S. Lewis would be welcome in the ACNA except on the merits of his overwhelming celebrity in Christendom. Whether he should be read by ACNA members, as a matter of consistency with the ACNA leadership’s view of orthodoxy, is actually a different question from what I’m raising. But I doubt he would be accepted by the ACNA leadership today on the merits of his actual views. Maybe C.S. Lewis isn’t orthodox enough for the ACNA, or the Southern Baptists—or for that matter the PCA, for whom I have a great deal of love and appreciation, if probably not agreement.

C.S. Lewis Drank Three Pints of Beer in The Morning — A Letter From Tolkien

In a recent post, David Russell Mosley tries to understand why evangelicals love C.S. Lewis so much—when so much of C.S. Lewis was not evangelical.

After reading the following excerpt from a letter by J.R.R. Tolkien to his son Christopher Tolkien, I not only laughed out loud (for seven years I was a beer columnist for a weekly newspaper), I also found myself a bit amazed at Lewis’s physiological capabilities.

“Lewis is as energetic and jolly as ever, but getting too much publicity for his or any of our tastes. ‘Peterborough’, usually fairly reasonable, did him the doubtful honour of a peculiarly misrepresentative and asinine paragraph in the Daily Telegraph of Tuesday last. It began ‘Ascetic Lewis’–––!!! I ask you! He put away three pints in a very short session we had this morning, and said he was ‘going short for Lent’.”

Wow. Three pints in the morning, and that’s giving up some for Lent.

I wonder if that makes for a jolly day. I’d probably need a nap around lunchtime.

Ruth Graham of The Atlantic perfectly explains church music in an article on The Gathering cult

Money earned from worship music (those five words should form a red flag) has been funding a religious cult with an allegedly controlling, authoritarian, and possibly criminal leader by the name of Wayne Jolley.

The Chris Tomlin hit “How Great Is Our God,” co-written with Ed Cash, has helped to underwrite The Gathering International, a cult-like organization, as reports in Christianity Today and The Atlantic have noted.

But shouting against cults doesn’t seem to bring about change. The failings of evangelicalism renew the seedbeds for high-control groups and authoritarianism and cults all the time, as it was in the beginning, is now, and forevermore shall be.

So to draw something good from this all-too-familiar mess, let’s focus on Ruth Graham’s explanation (in The Atlantic) of today’s worship music in “contemporary services” at churches darn near everywhere, and let’s notice the contrast she strikes with old hymns.

“Worship songs are songs to be sung in church. Though they perform a similar role as hymns do in a church service, there are significant differences between hymns and worship songs. Many hymns are theologically complex and somewhat formal in tone, while worship songs rely on repetition, informality, emotion, and simplicity. Hymns tend to be sung from books, while the lyrics to worship songs are projected onto big screens. Many hymns date to the 19th century or before, while worship music as a genre arose in the 1960s and took off in the 1990s. Hymns are usually accompanied by an organ or a piano, while worship songs are played by a full band, including guitars and drums. Hymn-singing is a collective endeavor, while worship bands play so loudly that the congregation is doing something more like singing along at a concert. (Naturally, there are exceptions to all these generalizations.) Classics of the young genre include ‘Lord, I Lift Your Name on High’ and ‘Shout to the Lord.’

“These days worship songs are not just sung in church, but bundled onto albums for inspirational home listening….”

Instant replay:

“Many hymns are theologically complex and somewhat formal in tone, while worship songs rely on repetition, informality, emotion, and simplicity. Hymns tend to be sung from books, while the lyrics to worship songs are projected onto big screens….worship bands play so loudly that the congregation is doing something more like singing along at a concert.”

Let us pray.

Dear Lord, let our entertainment and our worship become one.

Amen.

Updated Dec. 23 to add a clause to the “instant replay” quotation.

I’m Just Jealous of Your Success in The Lord

Call it a Throwback Thursday moment, because I still love this:

I’m jealous of C.J. Mahaney’s ability to cover up ugly things.

I’m jealous of Tim Keller’s reasoning skills.

I’m jealous of John Piper’s articulation of positions that implode even as he states them.

I’m jealous of Bill Gothard’s way with the ladies.

I’m jealous of Bob Jones University’s keen identification of the sources of problems.

I’m jealous of Mark Driscoll’s ambition.

I’m just jealous of your success in the Lord.

I think, however, I’ve learned from these men how to be successful in the Lord.

Be forceful, be confident, be uncompromising, be direct, be confrontational.

Be rhetorically slippery; be illogical.

Be anything that makes someone successful in today’s world of marketing and media, for the world of marketing and media is the Kingdom of Heaven.

And I’ve learned you can have a great social club by gathering around the teachings of famous contemporaries.

Just save the discernment for later, when the facts are so obvious no discernment is necessary, which is how discernment seems to work in American churches, especially the most conservative ones, which start by dispatching all knowledge gained by human inquiry because it might get in the way of discernment. (It makes sense because it doesn’t make sense.)

One thing you should do in response to this post: Accuse me of “sour grapes,” because, as Andy Crouch has taught us, diverting attention from facts to abstractions is an easy way to sound spiritually wise.

A quick question for pastors and ministers

Reflecting on the past few years, I’m stunned at the lack of basic character in your profession.

If you scream from your pulpits about the sins of the world and unorthodox beliefs in other churches, when will you scream from your pulpits about the sins of Mark Driscoll, C.J. Mahaney, Bill Gothard, Bob Jones University, Anglicans in the U.S. supporting the jailing of gays in Africa, the startlingly non-biblical beliefs (before their son’s troubles) of the Duggars, Doug Phillips, and the Roman Catholic pedophile priests?

I know, you can’t because you’ve been too busy picking on Rob Bell about universalism — you know, universalism, an idea, a belief, a way of thinking that does not bully or degrade or sexually assault anyone.

You’re too busy critiquing liberal theology in the mainline Protestant denominations — much easier, granted, than addressing the real problems in your own conservative houses.

Or it’s simpler than that. You’ve been friends with the conservatives. You’ve been enemies of the liberals. Defend your friends and kick your enemies. Like Jesus said, you’re just like everyone else. You’re like this guy.

You frauds.

Your Bible says, “Moreover, [the Christian leader] must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”

That’s I Timothy 3:7.

You’ve failed that standard.

You are not well thought of by outsiders or insiders.

You are a disgrace.

Evangelicals don’t know much about theology

Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University, recently told the 2007 Religion Newswriters Assocition Annual Conference about his study of evangelicals. Lindsay has interviewed evangelicals across the United States and written a book, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite (Oxford, 2007).

While Lindsay’s work has done a lot to bust media stereotypes of evangelicals, one thing he told the RNA conference is sadly not surprising: Evangelicals don’t know much about theological teachings; they have very little formal theological education.

This recalls the famous statement by the evangelist Billy Sunday: “Theology? I didn’t know I had any.”

However, some of Lindsay’s other findings are more flattering of evangelicals:

MYTH: Evangelicals derive their power mainly in the political field.
REALITY: Most identify themselves with culture and the arts (especially Hollywood), where they feel they can make a greater difference.

MYTH: Evangelicals are mainly in white suburban communities in between the U.S. coasts.
REALITY: One of the largest evangelical churches is a Hispanic congregation in Houston. Another, in New York, serves Ivy League professionals.

MYTH: Domestic issues like gay marriage and abortion are most important to evangelicals.
REALITY:
Evangelical groups are more involved on the global front, with issues like HIV/AIDS and hunger.

Read more of RNA’s summary of Lindsay’s presentation at http://www.rna.org/action071102.php#evangelical.